El Cajon

‘Huge Overreach': Outspoken El Cajon Mayor Rips Stepped-Up Enforcement Efforts

El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells is not alone in his disdain for enforcement of public health orders; the sheriffs in Orange and Riverside counties said they would not respond to calls for curfew violations

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The mayor of El Cajon, who previously told the city’s police department not to make health order violations a priority, now says San Diego County’s stepped-up enforcement efforts are a “huge overreach.”

On Thursday, Sheriff Bill Gore said eight deputies would help issue citations to residents who refuse to comply with a curfew set to go into effect this weekend.

Meanwhile, county code enforcement officers continue to issue cease-and-desist orders to businesses not following purple tier restrictions on indoor operations. Over a 24-hour period on Friday, a county spokesperson said upward of 35 cease-and-desist orders had been issued.

County Sheriff Bill Gore talks about the role of compliance enforcement teams and how citizens can do their part to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“One of the things that really frustrated me, is that the sheriff’s department -- without our consent -- is going to come in, they’re going to talk to our people, they’re going to come in with their badges and their guns, and they’re not going to be El Cajon badges and guns, which is going to frighten people even more," Wells said.

Although Wells expressed frustration over the situation, El Cajon continues to have one of the highest case rates in San Diego.

According to the county COVID dashboard, El Cajon had a case rate of 24.9 per 100,000 residents over a reporting period from Nov. 4-11. The East County city had an additional 184 cases during the previous seven-day reporting period.

Wells, who has attributed the high number of cases to the high number of nursing homes and boarding facilities in El Cajon, is insisting on an educational approach to enforcement.

“Frankly, I think it’s the county flexing their muscle because they’re frustrated with all the public dissent, and there’s a lot of public dissent,” Wells said.

In fact, while Sheriff Gore has offered his support for enforcement, sheriffs in neighboring Riverside and Orange counties said they will not respond to calls related to curfew or health-order violations.

“At this time, due to the need to have deputies available for emergency calls for service, deputies will not be responding to requests for face coverings or social gatherings, only enforcement,” said Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes in a post on social media.

“We will not be responding to calls for service based solely on noncompliance with the new order or social distancing and mask guidelines,” said Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco in a post on social media.

Meanwhile in El Cajon, bar owner Steve Fort received a cease-and-desist order for serving indoors. He continues to operate outdoors while partnering with a restaurant next door to serve food to his customers.

“I think it’s a pain in the ass, but I have to put up with it," said Fort, who owns the Landing bar on Main Street. "I have to deal with it because I have to deal with the [Alcohol Beverage Control]. They’d take my license away, and I’m shut down anyway. If he closes me down again, then the bar shuts down for good. I can’t sustain a loss forever.”

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